Thoughts on education

So, I spent 45 minutes on Friday waiting for a meeting that never got started – during this period of lost time I decided to have a think about what I believe would help the Games course develop and produce (hopefully) better graduates… Not that the guys (and gals) that have gone through are poor, but they could be given a better chance straight out the gate, as it were.

Anyhow, enough blithering, time to translate my scribbled notes into something vaguely coherent!

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Keeping it real, yo.

I appreciate that lists of books aren’t exactly the most exciting thing to read about – for the one person that reads this (well, me…). So time for an update with a bit of “heft” – got a fair amount to talk about, though not sure just how much of it is actually interesting to anyone!

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I once fought two days with an arrow through my testicle.

So, a post that isn’t about bloody books – it’s taken long enough!

I may be a tad inebriated, so excuse the spelling mistakes (I’ll do my best to correct said mistakes before I hit the pretty ‘publish’ button). I’ve been thinking a fair amount recently about what the future holds for me – I’ve been offered some paid work by another mod, which I’ve happily taken in an attempt to get me through the dry summer months without a wage from the university. Perhaps I should’ve saved some money while it was coming in? (hah, where’s the fun?)

But at the same time, I desperately battle to ensure that the companys (Calibre Studios that is) projects actually reach a point where we’re happy to show them off to others during the process of getting them published (note, I don’t talk about “possibly” or “maybe”, this game will get published on XBLA).

Though I’m also somewhat weighed down by the need to get the next version of the hidden out the door, much as I like the game, I often find myself struggling to work on it – it’s been over two years since we first released and the returns have been minimal (we’ve built up a good core community, but in terms of money or other returns, we’ve had fuck all) in terms of ‘reknown’. That starts to sap the soul somewhat after a while, we were the first ‘big’ mod out for HL2, we’ve outlasted our first ‘competitor’ Plan of Attack, but still we get little recognition from anyone but our fan base… It’s all a bit depressing!

Hopefully that’ll change with our next release, the new game type will provide the extra ‘umph’ we need to get ourselves known solidly… Of course, we also face the issue of increasing competition, there are way more HL2 mods out and about the place now then there were when we first released many moons ago. Mods like Iron Grip, Insects Infestation and Dystopia have come along providing wider experiences (I won’t say deeper, as that’s not true) which provide more immediate appeal to a wider audience than we do.

What I am looking forward to is the release of UT3, which’ll allow us to finally unveil our next modding project – which is fucking cool as fuck in all honesty and which will allow me to get my teeth into UE3 properly (rather than through a vaguely broken version of RoboBlitz, I mean honestly, why does it not support transparent materials properly?)

Not that you heard that we’re working on a UT3 mod from me, if I hear that rumour spreading, I’ll be sending the lads round to break legs and take names, ok?

Boys, that girl hasn’t worn panties since she was twelve.

So, what’s been going on?

We’ve been hard at work developing a portfolio video to send out to development studios who may want to make use of our freelance art services – it’s looking very pretty, so I’ll throw up a link shortly.

It’s been an interesting time with the Hidden, Valve have been busy updating the SDK, so we’ve been playing catchup with that while also implementing the Evacuation Point gametype – I’ve made good progress on that so far, I think I’m at the point where it’s down to visual additions and tweaking the core gameplay following feedback from testers. Of course, to let the testers actually test, I need to dive into Linux and try and figure out why the server isn’t running properly.

Aside from that, I’ve been working on a 2D vertical shooter as a way of giving us a game to add to our portfolio that’s all our code – progress on that is going well, I’ve got the basic gameplay sorted, but I need to tidy it all up, add a menu and start getting some more advanced gameplay features in; pickups and the like. I’m also still working on the Pseudo-3D platformer, but that’s taken something of a back seat at the moment as I was working on the editor but realised I needed to implement picking / selection code and wasn’t sure how to do it! (I’ve since figured it out, I just need to get back into it and get the code working)

Finally, I’ve finished my Masters, graduation in about 6 weeks! I’ll put up some examples of what I did over that year over the next few weeks – with that out of the way, I’ve taken up a job with the University as a “demonstrator” and “help desk technician” – which helps me pay the rent and keeps me in touch with the faculty and some of the help they can provide (like hardware for the office!)

One last thing before I sign off – take a peek at the Great Games Experiment (link) – an interesting new networking site from the guys at Garage Games (link), it’ll be interesting to see how it kicks off once it leaves Beta!

Only after disaster can we be resurrected.

Right, bit of an odd one we’ve had around here – I’ve given up trying to sneak out a little update, instead we’re just dumping 4a out the door to avoid confusion.

The Hidden – Source

It’s been a hectic time around here, not only have we dropped Beta 4 out the door, followed by me running around remaking installers, compiling windows and linux builds – remaking the installers again, uploading the installers, remaking the installers, cancelling the upload and doing the whole lot all over again. I’ve also finished the last of my ‘taught’ units, getting the assignment done by the skin of my teeth (I’ll try and get the final product of that, a slightly broken MD5 viewer, uploaded soon), alongside which we’ve secured ourselves free office space for a year thanks to the sparkhouse, the universities business incubation setup – due to winning their “Business Ignition” Competition, which garners us the aforementioned offices, free of rent for a year, support from a local accountant and solicitor along with £2000 in funding to help get us off the ground.

This is awesome news – it means we can really settle down and focus our efforts, rather than being diverted by working out of our bedrooms! Of course, that’s once we find the money to get ourselves set up with the various bits of hardware and software we need. Which equates to roughly £15,000 all told (we can use the £2000 towards that, but it’d be nice to get some extra to cover any other costs we may encounter) I need to sort out the majority of that over the next few days, hurrah!

In other news, I’m off on a holiday soon, wewt! Week and a half at me dads place in France, hope to get me an NLP diploma while I’m there (his wife does courses, I get to sign up for them when I’m about) and get some writing done for my dissertation.

That’s a very fine Chardonnay you’re not drinking!

Ways to make money -

  1. Sell your soul
  2. Create, Market and Sell a successful product
  3. Sell your body
  4. Get a job
  5. Sell someone elses body
  6. Sell firearms
  7. See Two
  8. Start a game development studio
  9. Sell drugs
  10. Win the lottery

Of those 10, I need to do at least one in the coming months – basically, I need a job… Something that will let me do 15 – 20 hours a week at above minimum wage, enough to cover rent and hopefully monthly costs… Possibly even let me buy some food.

Of course, I’d prefer 10, that’d just be easy… But it requires investment of the aforementioned cash, which I lack and as such cannot afford to invest in something with such astronomical odds of not winning! (A vicious cycle)

Apart from that, the replacement 360 from the nice Amazonians seems to be working a charm – at least I’ve not had any horrendous shearing polygons in PGR3 yet, hurray for decent returns policies! The new unit I’ve started seems to be an interesting one and far less taxing on the brain than AI!

In the odd spare hour or two I’ve been writing a bit of Hidden based fiction (does it count as fan fiction when it’s the project lead writing it?) which I may eventually get around to finishing and posting here – though it’s getting to be a bit epic considering it’s only meant to be a short story!

Thinking of posting on here, I’ll be sorting out that reviews section soon, filling it out with some bits and pieces – I need to talk about the 360, DoA4, PGR3, Black, Oblivion… I’ll also throw in some films that I’ve enjoyed recently too, speaking of which, I recently organised my dvd collection into alphabetical order and I’ve laid down the challenge to myself to try and watch one a night until I’ve gotten through them all.

It’s proving tougher than I thought, not due to a lack of time, but due to the fact that I keep finding stuff I want to watch on normal TV, tonights viewing was stopped by “In Hell” with the Muscles from Brussels (Van Damme) – who can resist the temptation of an unseen Van Damme film? Not I!

Right, if anyone figures out how I can make lots of money, well, not lots, but enough, without doing any real work, let me know… Most suggestions will be seriously considered!

Well, that’s – that’s difficult to – it’s all math…

Ok, so the maths unit is done with, thank god… While it wasn’t actually as bad as I feared it might be, I’d be quite, quite happy to never happen to see the words “differentiation” or “integration” again in regards to maths for a very, very long time!

We’ve made some more (slight) progrees in regards to Revolution, nothing amazing but the art team are a bit happier with the tools at hand. Now it’s down to actual gameplay coding, which is going to be an entertaining journey – the style of the game is now more towards prince of persia than marble madness, partly due to technical limitations that we don’t much want to overcome on our first game in torque and partly down to laziness (or are they in fact the same reason with slightly different ways of saying it?)

Anyhow, take a look at Boxyweb for a shot of test level that he’s putting together for it. I’ll keep shots of that one coming as and when new stuff drops in. It should ultimately be a fun little platformer, with distinct kiddy appeal… Here’s hoping we pull it off and we sell at least 2 copies! (We should get that from parent sales alone!)

GingTorrent has been pushed to the back burner somewhat, I’ve got to the point where I can read torrent files, I just need to parse them out and store their information, which is the job for over the xmas holidays (ok, I know I said it’d take a week but I’ve never been good at time tabling!)

I’ve updated my portfolio section (the real reason behind this site) – a link can be found up at the top of this page, it currently shows up Hidden Source and a Rubik’s Cube simulator (exciting, I know). But I’ll get more stuff up there as and when I get it done. I may have to finish off the prototype I made for the first unit and get that up there, as it showed promise.

Current Work : Small bits of Hidden, Revolution, GingTorrent and a Wipeout Clone using Renderware Graphics.

Now, we must all fear evil men.

Ok, couple of new games I’m gonna talk about over the next few days; Quake 4, Call of Duty 2 and F.E.A.R – today’s discussion shall be Monolith’s F.E.A.R – with a bit of extra crud thrown at the end!

First impressions are mixed – the level design is fairly basic, without much world detail and fairly standard concrete textures all over the shop but the models are highly detailed and quite lovely to look at. The atmosphere is however amazing, they’ve done a really good job of using the technical aspects of the engine to best effect (real time lighting / shadowing for instance), firefights leave clouds of dust and smoke billowing through rooms and corridors, often completely obscuring your view, leading to wild firing from both yourself and the AI.

I won’t talk too much about the storyline, it’ll just lead to silly spoilers – it is however interesting enough to keep you generally engaged and playing through to the end. The combination of movie style action sequences with japanese style horror elements is nearly perfect in it’s execution – though the horror sequences can be wasted if the player isn’t locked into the experience. I know one of my housemates didn’t feel the full impact because he was charging through, paying little attention to the world around him.

The technical aspects are interesting, at least to a coder such as myself – there’s a developers commentary included on the dvd that talks about some of the limitations that the designers faced such as 6 AI’s, no water and a limited number of lights. It’s also quite obvious that it went through some fairly heavy optimisation, both in engineering and design.

A worthwhile purchase – if only for the pleasantly fresh and relatively different singleplayer, the multiplayer being some truly tasty hardcore deathmatch fun, it’s fast, furious and completely mentalist when you get a full 16 player server going on!

On a side note; the Hidden’s Beta 2 release went reasonably well, we suffered some horrific server crashes but got the majority of them under control within 24 hours – however, it has left us with the dirty secret nasty ones to track down and fix up over the next few weeks.

Ultimately, I need to keep B3 on the back burner while working on revolution, which is slowly but surely being ramped up across the team. Though it does look like at the very least, a B2b is required within the next month or so. I’m probably going to talk some more about B2b / B3 over the next few weeks as we decide what we’re going to do with it.

The peer mentoring system has finally started rolling at uni, I’m hoping I’ll have my group of 10 freshers to play with, erm, help, in the next few weeks – my ultimate intention is to try and make it even vaguely interesting, perhaps even set them a couple of challenges; game design within a set domain (physics, swarming, growth etc), possibly a mod of some form – I’d quite like to see a decent single player mod started off (I have a year to work with them on it in the role of “advisor” – it should be doable depending on starting skill levels).

There’s also the possibility of a demonstrator position working with 2nd years for their 3D Studio Max work and related projects – it’s caused dismay amongst the art team, the idea of a coder helping to teach Max has them in fits… But I have pointed out that it’s basic Max skills that I actually do have!

Finally, my mini-project for the next week or two is to try and write a basic BitTorrent client, a couple of reasons – learning more about networking, developing my win32 API skills and just writing something tool based rather than game based! I’ll try and keep this place updated with my progress while also talking about some other bits and pieces that may or may not be more interesting!

You spin me right round, baby

While the coding team work on fixing up the last few niggles in Beta 2 of the Hidden, the art team have moved on and are producing work for our first actual real game title. There’s not a lot of organisation as far as I can tell, with different people just grabbing objects or themes and running with them…

Then again, the art team is a beast unto itself and regularly has discussions without bringing the coders in – leading to many a smashed dream when the coders do finally find out what they’ve been thinking of! So it’s quite possible that there is some sense in their madness!

So far I’ve seen a pissed off stompy robot, a flying wasp-ish robot and some persian architecture style pillar things… I might one day get them to write down what they’re doing, I’m a firm believer in lists and order when it comes down to doing work!

In my brief moments of down time I’ve been looking over torque and having a play around with the built in scripting language… I’m avoiding doing any actual coding until I’m well away from the Source SDK – I just fear I’ll get terribly confused! I even got to put together an awesome bit of coder art for the main menu background, it’s a lovely 10 minute job in photoshop!

Who said coders couldn’t make sexeh art? :D The basic plan is that I’m hoping it’ll piss off the artists enough that they’ll make a prettier one fairly quickly, mainly because staring at the synapse lighting pack background was doing my nut in!

Think that’s more than enough from me, must be time to get me some food or something…

Cannot run out of time. There is infinite time.

It’s come to my attention that I really, really need to organise my time better – it’s just getting slightly crazy without a schedule of work / things to do. I’ll start a day with the best intentions of doing a certain amount of work, but then I get diverted into doing something else so the work never quite gets done when I intended it to…

Of course, I could just stop myself getting diverted, but that defies the point of getting organised. Something that I hope will let me jam more into my days, I completely intend to have made progress in learning japanese over the next year, along with getting fitter and healthier (good lord, I do believe I mean exercise!) So, I need to track down a way of setting out a schedule for myself, either with a calendar / todo proggy or god forbid – a diary! (I know, horrendously archaic!)

Basically, if I can play footie with the lads without dying after 5 minutes and then go home and watch some anime without being *too* concerned about reading the subtitles I’d be a right happy chap… Of course, if I can’t manage both, than I’ll aim for the running without dying one!

My current thinking is to start off relatively complicated and list out something for nearly every hour of the day and keep doing that until it becomes routine, when I’ll be able to just block out sections of my day instead. Organisation is something I’m not great at – well, in some respects, time keeping and the like I particularly suck at… There’s always tomorrow, ya know?